So I decided not to use the term "self-flagellation." But the religious overtone and analogy is nevertheless still there; jokes about Ashtanga being a church or religion aside, it does seem to me that now and then, Ashtangis do succumb (is this the appropriate word to use here?) to this tendency to be really hard on themselves when talking about what they did or did not do during practice, or about whether they made it to the mat on certain days. To be sure, not every Ashtangi in the cybershala or in the "real" world is hard on themselves; more often than not, people seem to talk about their practices with a sort of cyber-shrug, mediated by a good dose of an "it is what it is, let's try this again tomorrow" attitude.
But now and then--and perhaps this is happening more now, with the change in the seasons, and the anxiety that this tends to induce in our lives both on and off the mat--I would come across blog posts in which the Ashtangi in question seems to be expressing a certain kind of angst, a certain feeling of pain or frustration at not having done enough in practice recently, or at having let certain lifestyle habits (eating too much, drinking too much, sleeping too much or too little) get in the way of a "better" practice. Such blog posts often have a certain overarching tone of "I'm not good enough for X or I'm not good enough to be X because I did not practice good enough today/this past week/this past month", where "X" could be "a good Ashtangi", "self-realized", "self-evolved", or whatever one's preferred spiritual archetype might be.
Maybe I'm reading too much into what people write on their blogs. Or maybe having this kind of "not good enough" mentality towards our practices isn't necessarily a bad thing, in the bigger scheme of things: After all, if we cannot see that there are things in our lives that need working on (and are thus "not good enough"), we probably won't be able to awaken the desire to stoke the fire of practice, dig deep within ourselves, and burn off the impurities, physical and spiritual, that are holding us back from living in a more self-realized manner.
But at the same time, I also can't help wondering how much of this "not good enough" mentality is the product of a healthy striving towards greater self-perfection, and how much of it is a sort of Judeo-Christian throwback. Is it possible that many Ashtangis practice with a Judeo-Christian mindset, the mindset that says that "If I don't accomplish A today, I will never be good/evolved/sacred enough"? ("A" could range from "doing full primary", "binding in Mari D", "grabbing the heels in Kapo", to "successfully inhaling through my anus and thus having incontrovertible proof that I am an accomplished master of mula bandha", to "having an out-of-body experience in savasana where I take a brief trip to the Brahma heavens and have tea with Krishna before heading back to the humdrum reality of my earthly body". Really, the possibilities are endless here...)
Or maybe there is nothing wrong even with practicing with a Judeo-Christian mindset. Frankly, I find this proposition a little hard to swallow: If one is always practicing with a "I'm not good enough unless I accomplish A" attitude, doesn't this also suggest that one's practice is motivated by fear, a fear that one will never measure up or be good enough? And if the starting point is fear, what can we expect the end point to be?
But maybe, when all is said and done, it really doesn't matter what it is that gets you on the mat (even if it is fear); what's important is that you get on the mat, do your practice. And then the practice will work its magic. And then all is coming. What does it matter if you approach the practice with a Judeo-Christian or Buddhist or Taoist or Hindu or Atheistic mindset? Whatever your starting mindset, the practice will (or at any rate, should) alchemize it into... something better?
So maybe it's all good, after all: Nothing really matters, so long as you practice. Which means I basically just wrote a post about... nothing. Oh well, thanks for reading. But if any of this makes any sense to you and you have something to say, I'll love to hear from you, as always.
In the meantime, let's move to a less weighty topic. Gregor Maehle recently announced on his Facebook page that because he and his wife Monica are now over 50 years of age and have reached the Forest-dweller (Vanaprastha) stage of life (in accordance with the four-ashramas (stages of life) model detailed in the Vedas), they will be selling their home in Perth, Australia, and moving into the forest on the Australian east coast to take up residence there.
But it also appears that he is not planning to become a forest-dwelling hermit who has cut off all ties with the world. On the contrary: Again according to his Facebook page, he has plans to establish a yoga retreat center in the forest "at some point in an unknown future", and also has plans to expand his teaching activities worldwide; see his Facebook page for more details on all this.
Which is great news, from my own very selfish point of view. Although I have never met him before, I have benefited greatly from the wisdom that he has imparted in his books, especially the one on the Intermediate Series (see previous post for more details on this book). In particular, his detailed instructions on Kapotasana did much to see me through my early struggles with this formidable pose. Hopefully, I will be able to study with him in person one day, somewhere in the world. Perhaps, when my financial and immigration situation becomes more established, I may even go to his retreat center in the eastern Australian forest :-)
I also can't help wondering if Maehle's move will set in motion a new trend among senior Ashtanga teachers. Maybe more senior teachers will follow his lead, and move into a forest nearest to them when they reach a certain age? Ha! Can you imagine Kino and Tim living in the Florida Everglades, and maybe setting up a retreat center there among the alligators? Final yogic test for students in their Everglades Yoga Intensive: Perform Nakrasana (Crocodile pose) next to a live alligator, and see if you can fool the alligator into thinking you are one of them (or get eaten alive).